Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Writer Problems

I learned to write by paying careful attention to other people's writing, noticing problems and sussing out their origins. It's one of my weirdo pastimes; a puzzle-solving activity akin to soduku.

Felix Baumgartner was supposed to set a high-altitude parachute record today by rising to 120,000 feet in a balloon and jumping off in a pressurized suit (here's the feat's web site). But the jump was scrubbed due to high winds. And here's how a Forbes reporter called it:
"Baumgartner’s helmet is off and he is clearly disappointed he won’t be jumping today. We are also disappointed, but we’ll be back tomorrow when Baumgartner and team try to launch once more."
"Once more". Does that mean the daredevil has only one more opportunity? It seems hard to believe; this isn't like a Mars launch with highly sporadic windows. So why would the writer use such an ambiguous construction? Why not "we’ll be back tomorrow when Baumgartner and team try again"?

"Once more" sounds more writerly/pretentious. It's how a newly hired reporter unconsciously figures the Forbes branded voice should sound. Pretension trumped clarity. It happens a lot.

Either that, or the writer noticed that "we’ll be back tomorrow when Baumgartner and team try to launch again" is slightly awkward. So, rather than remove the unnecessary "to launch", he hurriedly swapped in a synonymous phrase for "again" which offered a more balanced cadence. In other words, he chose the wrong thing to change (error #5 in my "Six Writing Tips").

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